THE announcement by the Zambia Police Service that 60 percent more people died on our roads over the long weekend than in the same period last year, should not be mistaken for mere statistics.
Those statistics tell a tragic human story of horror, pain, great loss and economic deprivation. Our roads have become rivers of blood.
These are human beings, Zambian citizens, most of them cut down in the prime of their lives when they were making significant contribution to the development and well-being of our country.
These were not mere road traffic accident casualties. They were our children, brothers, sisters, mothers, wives, husbands, grannies and friends and relatives we loved so much and many of whom added value to our lives as family and society.
According to the police, many of them died as a result of ‘‘human error‘’ – over-speeding, careless or reckless driving and generally because of non-compliance with road traffic rules and regulations by motorists and pedestrians.
During the four-day holiday, 47 people were killed on the road as compared to 29 who died over the same weekend last year, representing a 62 percent increase in fatalities. There were altogether 282 road traffic accidents during the period, three less than the 285 recorded last year.
In other words more people died this year in fewer accidents than in the same period last year.
The rising road accident toll comes amid one of the most concerted efforts by the police and the Road Transport and Safety Agency (RTSA) to clamp down on this silent killer which is draining our economy and intellectual property.
Just before the weekend, RTSA announced stringent measures to crack down on erring drivers along our inter-town routes and warned drivers to observe traffic rules or face the wrath of the law. Police check points and road patrols were intensified and physical law enforcement visibility was everywhere. Sadly in did not work.
The tragedy on our roads, if it were in other countries, would have been a critical election campaign issue. How is it possible that a small nation of just 13 million people with a struggling economy can record such a staggering loss of life and damage to property on its roads, and we are all quiet?
It is clear from the police statement that the root cause of accidents on our roads is impunity – drivers doing as they please – and endangering the lives of others in the process. This is a psychological issue, a mindset, which ought to be corrected.
There is so much excitement and rudeness among our drivers. In a country where the youthfull population is 70 percent of the national average, this may be understandable but inexcusable. It means we lose more young people every day to road accidents, who are the backbone of our economy and the brains of our society.
We have come to the conclusion that the present measures being taken to curb road accidents on our roads have failed. The statistics tell the story. We need to pose and look at the situation again. We need to sit down and get to the bottom of the problem and seek new, workable solutions.
Is it our roads which are too narrow, too congested and unlit during the night which contribute to the rising road carnage? Do our drivers lack the necessary learner driving skills, the competence and attitude for a better road safety awareness?
Could it be that the process to acquire a driving license in Zambia is riddled with corruption, hence many of the drivers on our roads should never have been there in the first place?
Unless we are honest and courageous enough to get to the bottom of the cause of road traffic accidents in Zambia, the rivers of innocent blood will never cease.